Soundbars are easy to set up, affordable and offer much better sound quality than a standard built-in TV speaker, and this makes them more popular than home theater speaker, AV receiver and subwoofer packages these days. With an abundance of choices on the market, finding the best soundbar can be a challenge, but this guide can help you cut through the noise.
We played both music and movies in our audio lab to test the sound quality of the soundbars listed below. We also took into account features such as the number of HDMI ports and whether the soundbar offers high-resolution audio, Bluetooth, surround sound or Dolby Atmos. From Alexa-powered smart speakers to solid bare-bones ‘bars, this is CNET’s lineup of the best soundbars available at multiple feature levels and prices.
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Read more: Soundbar buyer’s guide for 2020
If you’re looking to ditch your TV speakers, this is where we suggest you start. Our long-time favorite, the Vizio SB3621n-E8 has essentially been replaced by the V21. The subwoofer may be smaller on the newer model but this bar still sounds great, as well as offering HDMI connectivity and a much easier to understand input display. This is the best soundbar value we’ve tested in 2020.
If your price range is limited, for less than a C-note, the Creative Stage soundbar offers a bunch of previously unheard-of features, including HDMI connectivity and a subwoofer. But what’s even more remarkable is that it sounds better than most of its ultrabudget competition, with a wired subwoofer that fills the room with great bass. A variety of modes makes this a great soundbar speaker for music, concerts and gaming. Excellent sound quality for gamers and movie fans alike.
The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar. The addition of Amazon Alexa is useful, allowing this voice control smart soundbar to stream music, and the mics work well in loud environments. The soundbar’s implementation of DTS Virtual:X offers a rich effect reminiscent of surround speakers. The wireless subwoofer is more articulate and offers more headroom than the competing, and also excellent, Polk Command Bar. However, the YAS-209 doesn’t use the company’s MusicCast system, so it won’t sync up with other Yamaha speakers.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 proves you don’t need to spend a ton to get a high-quality soundbar that can handle the latest Dolby Atmos soundtracks and get multiroom sound. The Vizio SB36512-F6 is a full 5.1.2 immersive sound system for the price of an AV receiver, and its height channels do a solid job of bringing out Atmos effects. You can also stream music from any Google Chromecast-enabled audio app, like Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Google Play Music.
If you’re interested in setting up a multiroom sound system, a Sonos soundbar system is still the best option. The Sonos Arc is the company’s best soundbar and includes Dolby Atmos playback, a class-leading music ecosystem, and a choice of both Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa built into the bar itself. The soundbar system sounds good with music and movies, and adding a pair of Ikea Symphonisk bookshelves should really boost your home theater sound experience. The Arc sounds a lot bigger than the cheaper Beam, which needs the $700 subwoofer on top to make it comparable in terms of sound.
If you simply must have the fewest number of boxes and remotes in your living space and yet demand the best Atmos quality sound performance you can get, this Sennheiser speaker is your guy. It’s a single unit, without a subwoofer, but it’s able to conjure up the most realistic overhead and true surround sound effects we’ve ever heard. It’s also controlled entirely via remote control. It’s not a cheap piece of sound equipment but it’s comparable in price to a full set of surround speakers without the bulk and with 85% of the great sound and performance.
If you’re looking for a speaker that can do music as well as play the latest episode of Ted Lasso, then the Polk Signa S3 has a lot to offer. It’s great for streaming, as it has Chromecast built-in in addition to Bluetooth and an HDMI input.
With a full-fledged 4K HDR Roku streamer built in and a single voice remote controlling everything, this bar offers a simple all-in-one audio/video solution. This soundbar setup is a breeze; just add to a TV with a simple HDMI connection. Sound quality was very good for a single bar and you can add Roku’s optional wireless subwoofer for more punch. It also comes with a much-loved Roku remote control.
If you’re looking for a single bar that’s even cheaper than the Sonos Arc, the Zvox SB500 is a great option for people who still prize sound quality. This speaker offers multiple sound mode options, tighter bass and better sound than most other single-speaker options. While it may lack the Sonos’ Wi-Fi streaming the Zvox still includes Bluetooth connectivity for streaming audio from your phone or tablet.
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